PoliticsPA Reports: Altmire to face primary challenger?
By Alex Roarty
PoliticsPA Staff Writer
U.S. Rep. Jason Altmire (D) might feel pressure from his left ahead of his second vote on the Democratic Party’s health care bill, according to one prominent local Democrat.
The 4th Congressional District incumbent’s opposition to the House’s health care bill, which he voted against in November, angered many local Democrats, said Jim Burn, chairman of the Allegheny County Democratic Party.
There were “a lot of unhappy Democrats … after he cast his vote,” the chairman said.
Party members and officials have openly discussed finding a primary challenger since, he said.
“It’s been no secret they have done that, and the congressman is aware of that,” Burn said.
A challenger hasn’t publicly indicated he or she might run, but some Democratic insiders tell PoliticsPa that Butler County businesswoman Georgia Berner is rumored to be considering a campaign.
Berner has battled Altmire in a Democratic primary before, in 2006 when each was trying to unseat Republican incumbent Melissa Hart. Altmire defeated both women and cruised to re-election in 2008.
When reached for an interview recently, an aide to Berner said she was not commenting on the subject at this time.
Other sources say former Pittsburgh mayoral candidate Franco “Dok” Harris, Jr., son of famed former Steelers running back Franco Harris, is also rumored to be considering a campaign.
Harris lost to incumbent Mayor Luke Ravenstahl in a three-way Pittsburgh mayoral race last year when he ran as an independent. He earned 25 percent of the vote to Ravenstahl’s 55 percent.
Rumors of a possible primary challenge to Altmire might be a ploy to pressure the congressman into voting “yes” when he considers a revised version of the health care bill later this year. Any vote on health care in the House is expected to be very close
Altmire voted “no” to the House version because he said it did not do enough to reduce health care spending. He has indicated he might vote “yes” to legislation that mirrored the Senate’s bill, although he has not committed to a position.
Most observers considered Altmire’s opposition to the health care bill an attempt to preserve his moderate image, which he has carefully crafted since taking office.
One Democratic insider told PoliticsPA that, except for his opposition to health care reform, Altmire remains popular.
“I don’t think there are any bad votes except that one,” said the source, who described Altmire as accessible and likable.
But the party member said although they doubt any primary opponent would be a serious challenge to Altmire now, another “no” vote to health care would “absolutely” help a challenger’s chances.
A primary challenge against the congressman might satisfy Democratic activists, but it could harm the party’s chances at retaining the seat in November. The 4th District, while considered moderate, voted for Republican presidential candidate John McCain in 2008 by 10 points despite giving Altmire the same margin of victory in a rematch against Hart.
Pulling Altmire farther to the political left might tarnish his moderate image.
Any challenger would face a tight timeline to organize a campaign and raise money against the well-funded Altmire. Pennsylvania’s primary is May 18.
Republican attorney Keith Rothfus is the only declared challenger to Altmire thus far, though former U.S. attorney Mary Beth Buchanan is also considering a campaign.
Altmire’s campaign office declined to comment.